Jacques D'Arsonval and the Use of High Frequency Currents

Online exhibition looking at how electricity in a medical capacity has developed from the Antiquities through to the early twentieth century. Quack treatments are examined alongside studies of anatomy and x-rays.

Image of D'Arsonval's Solenoid

The problem of the painful application of faradic current was solved by French physiologist Jacques d'Arsonval's experiments into its physiological effects. He discovered that by increasing current frequency the pain associated with its application was diminished. At that time, though, the mechanical limit was 10,000 oscillations per second which meant that total absence of pain still existed only in theory. 

His ground-breaking work was stalled only temporarily until Heinrich Hertz's production of electro-magnetic waves in 1890. Hertz's machine, able to achieve 1,000,000,000 oscillations per second, confirmed D'Arsonval's hypothesis and demonstrated that high-frequency currents do not stimulate nerves nor muscles in the potentially dangerous way of low-frequency currents. For his first medical trial D'Arsonval employed auto-conduction, with the patient completely enclosed in a solenoid that resembled a cage.

By the time of the first hospital trials in 1896, his methods also included the condenser couch.

Pamphlet describing a high frequency treatment used by the Institute of Medical Electricity

The Archives holds a pamphlet in its collections describing a high frequency treatment used by the Institute of Medical Electricity.

The voltage of Hertz's oscillator was considerably increased by Oudin's spark-gap resonator, which produced a powerful brush charge and a continuous undamped oscillation, The brush charge and its shower of sparks were successfully applied to dermatological and gynaecological conditions. 

Its anaesthetic effect, usefulness for destroying tumours and positive effect on respiration and circulation were also noted. Muscular atrophy, chronic rheumatism, nervous conditions and neuralgic pains all benefited from high frequency currents.

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